Though we may not be consciously aware of it, our society informs our clothing choices. What we select may not suit our tastes, our lifestyles, or our bodies, but what we see on our celebrities, our friends, or in our stores too often becomes our next regrettable purchase.
How can we develop more discerning decision-making power? How can we tune into what will make us feel great and what will pull weight in our wardrobes? That is what I aim to show you in 4 simple steps.
Step 1: Reconnaissance: Discover Your Preferences
Believe it or not, most everything you need to know you already do. It’s in your closet waiting for you to become more in tune with it. Those tops, bottoms, shoes and accessories you most often grab are your style. They are the colors, the size, the shapes that you feel most comfortable in.
The problem is, their message is often lost in the jumble of clothes that you don’t care for or you wear out of necessity (maybe laundry day is a bit too far off). You might not know that you’re a navy and cream kinda gal (or guy) because of all that lime green you see in your closet confusing you.
So, the first step is too clear out the closet. Take EVERYTHING out and only replace those things you feel great in. You don’t have to get rid of the other stuff yet, just box it up and put it someplace else.
Once you have those items you love, pay attention to what you love about them. The secret is to become aware enough of your preferences that you can recognize what you’ll love even when you’re not in your closet.
Don’t bother over-thinking it either. You don’t have to know that you’re a soft summer toned triangle body type (or whatever). What you like to wear will generally look good on you. That’s why you like to wear it. Plus, if you feel good, you’ll look good too.
Here are a few questions to help you understand your preferences:
- What are your signature colors? And what do you avoid?
- What are your signature patterns? And what do you avoid?
- Do you prefer natural fibers to synthetic or vice versa?
- Do you prefer things to be loose or fitted? Structured or flowy? Sporty? Romantic?
- What is your favorite sleeve length?
- What is your favorite pant shape? Boot cut? Skinny? Boyfriend?
Step 2: Find Your Uniform.
Your discoveries in step one are crucial here. When developing your uniform, you pin point your signature look(s). For example, your go-to might be a pair of blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers.
From step one, you’ve learned that you feel good wearing black. You also like dark wash blue jeans, maybe a straight-legged style. You know that you favor clean lines and don’t appreciate a more whimsical cut. You’ve realized that you like to keep it simple and sporty and don’t tend to wear any of your bohemian or romantic clothes and anything with a pattern makes you slightly nauseous.
Obviously, this is just an example. Many innovative thinkers have worked out personal uniforms so that they can go on thinking about other things. Steve Jobs, Former President Barack Obama, and Albert Einstein are just a few and they all have a different look.
You may have more than one signature look and they may very from season to season, but pick out your workhorses.
Here are a few questions that may help:
- What do you spend your days doing? (Are you in an office? Outdoors? Chasing kids?)
- What are three words you would use to describe the look you’re going for?
- What is the message you want to convey to others?
- What is your go-to silhouette?
Step 3: Do The Math.
Now that you know your style and color preferences and what you want your uniform to be, you need to do some calculations. Don’t worry, this isn’t rocket science, but it will be unique to you.
To start, you need to determine the distance between laundry days and how that affects the number of clothes you need. I get all my laundry done within 4 days, so I like to work with numbers between 4 and 6. Some items, such as socks and underwear, seem to require a few extra. I will generally shoot for 4-6 bottoms and 4-6 base layer tops. Some categories, such as layering pieces, can be worn multiple times between washes and therefore don’t require multiples. For some items, like my rain coat, 1 is all I need.
The next thing you need to judge is the number of combinations you can make with what you have. If you keep your clothes to a certain color pallet or style, you’ll be able to make a lot more outfits.
My preference is to have my base layers be plain and to add patterns through accessories like scarves or bohemian skirts. The reason patterned bottoms work for me is that I don’t wear more than one bottom at a time so competing/clashing patterns aren’t really a problem. Having basically plain tops allows me to mix and match base layer, vest, button down, jacket, coat, or whatever without having to overthink anything.
For my boys, I tend to keep their bottoms plain because most boy’s shirts are where the fun characters and patterns tend to be.
Discovering your magic number is a bit of a work in progress, but I recommend working from a minimalist bias. See how few things you can get a way with and you’ll refine your style much more quickly.
Step 4: Shop Smarter
When I was unaware of my personal style, the sky was the limit. I could always be shopping for the next new thing I didn’t really like. Something might catch my eye and when I brought it home, I would soon discover that it didn’t feel like “me” and the new thing didn’t match anything I liked to wear.
Though I tended to shop second-hand, it still amounted to a lot of wasted money and space. And wasn’t any good for the environment.
I am now (mostly) immune. I can go to a shop and quickly determine if an item suits my wardrobe and I know very specifically what I’m looking for. This saves me a ton of time and gives me a lot of clarity.
While I hope to see others answer questions of style in wildly different ways, I also hope for more people to share in the peace of mind I now enjoy.
Until next time, be the light by living lightly!